Airbnb brings Olympic tourists to poorer areas of Rio – but will locals benefit?

Hundreds of thousands tourists flock to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games. In order to cope with the shortage of hotel accommodation, the city did the Airbnb online rental platform an official partner for games. The company now lists 25,000 units in Rio – a massive increase from just 900 in 2012.

With the Brazilian economy in the doldrums, some praised the platform as a way for the Cariocas (residents of Rio) to earn extra money during the games. Nowhere would this be more welcome than in Rio’s favelas, neighborhoods that are home to some of the city’s poorest residents.

From the seaside neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, one can easily spot favelas such as Babilonia or Vidigal, perched on the steep hills surrounding the southern area of ​​Rio. Favelas are often located near richer areas and are home to many workers, security guards, cooks, drivers and nannies, who are employed by their more affluent neighbors.

The favela house until a quarter of the population of Rio – they are still considered prohibited areas by some and access to public services and social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals is still limited. For decades these neighborhoods were hidden official maps of the city – a reflection of the negligence they received from the authorities.

Slum tourism

These neighborhoods have long fascinated visitors to Rio and, since the early 1990s, tourists. have ventured in some of the favelas in the southern area on walking tours. Over the years, this trend has increased and today he is estimated that at least 50,000 visitors visit Rio’s favelas each year.

On tour.
Daytours4u / Flickr, CC BY

Tourism in the favelas has also diversified; more and more visitors are looking for favelas for their nightlife and markets – and sometimes also to find accommodation. Some hostels have been operating in the favelas for over a decade. But now online rental platforms (ORPs) such as Airbnb have given favela residents the opportunity to extend their hospitality personally by renting their own rooms or apartments to tourists.

This development comes at a time when cities around the world are debating the importance of RFOs. Airbnb and similar RFOs are part of what their supporters call the “sharing economy”. According to research conducted by Airbnb, RFOs can enable people with low incomes to generate additional income.

A sharing economy?

But some accuse the suppliers like Airbnb to accelerate gentrification by increasing the price of real estate. In particular, critics point out that RPOs encourage the transformation of entire buildings into permanent short-term rental apartments by commercial providers, as such agreements are more profitable than long-term rentals.

In this way, PROs reduce the availability of affordable housing in cities such as new York, Berlin Where Paris, according to his detractors.

In New York City, one of the largest ORP markets in the world, the number of rooms and apartments offered on Airbnb alone is now around 35,000. In response, New York state lawmakers have recently approved new legislation, which prohibits the rental of entire apartments for periods of less than one month, in order to stop short-term rentals.

In Berlin, a similar law came into force in May 2016, which requires anyone wishing to rent their entire apartment to obtain a business license from the town hall.

The view of Rio

So far, RFOs have generated little controversy in Rio de Janeiro. Unlike New York or Berlin, there has not been comprehensive research on the effect of ORPs on the housing market, especially in the favelas. So for now Airbnb’s claim Whether RFOs allow Rio residents to make ends meet amid economic uncertainty remains unchallenged.

Tourists on the terrace.
Marcelo Sayão / EPA

Such effects would clearly be welcome in the favelas, but from what we know so far, they seem rather unlikely. Only two favelas – Vidigal and Rocinha – are listed on AirBnb as neighborhoods. There are a number of additional accommodations in smaller favelas, often with pre-existing tourism infrastructure.

There are now around 250 listings on Airbnb in the city’s favelas, which is only 1% of the overall listings for Rio de Janeiro. It seems likely that the low usage of Airbnb is due to the lack of available space in the favelas.

There is a clear concentration of Airbnb favela listings in Vidigal, which has around 180 listings. Yet many of them are provided by brokers – not individuals – which we can tell by the fact that they offer multiple units. Some locations are even offered under company names – another indication that these operations are commercial in nature.

Faced with the expansion of RFOs, there appears to be a growing consensus among many cities on the need for smart regulation to limit or prevent their negative impacts. And Rio is no exception: Vidigal – an area that has long been the subject of gang violence and police ‘pacification’ interventions – are already facing strong pressures from gentrification. Without proper regulation, RFOs are likely to intensify gentrification and displacement in the favelas, rather than providing income support to Rio’s poorest residents.

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